I spent 3 months finding the perfect engagement ring, and it was terrifying — but worth it

caption
Dave Smith, shown here with his now-fiancée, Nasra, spent months designing a custom-made engagement ring.
source
Courtesy of Dave Smith

Business Insider deputy editor Dave Smith proposed to his girlfriend of two years in December. She said yes! Below, Smith walks us through a traditional, but anguishing, part of the process: buying an engagement ring.

As told to Libby Kane.

I knew I wanted to get engaged about a year ago.

We were in Toronto visiting friends for New Year’s Eve. We were at a party earlier, but we left the party so we could just be together as the ball dropped. We were talking and I just felt like I was so connected to her. In that moment, I thought, “This time next year I want us be to engaged. I’m ready for that, I think she’s ready for that, we’re at that point.”

I started thinking about a ring around September, and did some basic research on Yelp and Google about where to go: just “best places to buy an engagement ring New York City.”

I found one store that was family-owned. It had been around for 40 years, which I really did like, and it didn’t seem like a franchise or a chain. It’s one store that’s been in New York City, handed down from generation to generation, and has a master jeweler on site. As a non-jewelry person, that made me feel more comfortable. It’s called Greenwich St. Jewelers. I checked out their website and saw they could do custom stuff, and I was thinking I would go down that route. I could have gotten a really nice traditional ring, but she doesn’t really like traditional styles.

My girlfriend – fiancée! – has a Pinterest page and one of her boards is jewelry, and a lot of it is rings. I saved a lot of those images to my phone, just to give the jewelers an idea.

Throughout the entire relationship, we’ve done everything together: saying I love you, moving in together, all those decisions we made together. This part was something I had to do myself. I did see some people shopping for rings together, but it’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted the element of surprise. I didn’t even want to ask, “So what’s your ring size?” and I didn’t know what ring to even take from her if I were to take one, so I didn’t. This jeweler, and I think most jewelers, was like, ‘If it doesn’t fit, you can come back. We’ll do it right on site, it takes no time.’

I have no experience jewelry shopping at all. I’ve never bought myself jewelry, even. As a teenager I got a Fossil watch as like a Bar Mitzvah gift or something. I had no taste in jewelry. No idea what to do.

caption
The Marquise-cut engagement ring Smith designed for his fiancée.
source
Courtesy of Dave Smith

I worked with this one woman, Amanda, who was really great. She knew everything about jewelry. I explained to her, “I’m a noob at this, I don’t know anything – here are some pictures I got for us to work with.” The shape that we settled on is different from most other rings. It’s called a Marquise diamond.

Since it was custom, there was stuff like getting the right diamond itself. Some are shaped a little differently, some are a little wider, some a little narrower, some have different clarity and qualities I needed to go through. We had to figure out the color, the band, the shape. When you’re looking at diamonds on a tweezer, and you don’t know much about clarity and stuff like that, you’re just trying to go for something that looks good. If you’re paying thousands of dollars for it, which you are, you want something that doesn’t feel cheap, but it’s so hard to tell.

You want the ring to match her. Do you think she would be really pissed if you spent this much money? Do you think she’d be happy with this ring color or size or whatever? Is she the kind that would care a lot about the authenticity of the ring? Would she need the certificates? Because you can go cheaper if you get some elements that aren’t certified. You can go for more unique styles or go for a slightly more expensive diamond, which is what I did in this case.

I went back about five or six times over a couple of months. It took a lot longer than I thought. That was the one thing I was surprised with. My fiancée was taking French classes on Wednesday nights, so every Wednesday I would tell her, “Oh I’m playing video games.” But I was at the jeweler.

I went above and beyond my budget. I’d asked Amanda, the jeweler who helped me throughout this process: “What’s normal here? I’d heard something like a few months’ salary? A few paychecks? Do you have any advice with that?” I just didn’t know, and I didn’t want to seem cheap, but I also wanted to give her something that she deserved because I really do love her.

Amanda said that whole few months’ salary thing is total bull. It’s whatever you feel comfortable with. That’s the bottom line. I had some savings. We’ve both watched movies and TV shows where people get married and you see the ring, and how much the guy is spending, and my fiancée had said to me on so many occasions, “If you spent that much money I would kill you.” Because in the future it’s going to be our money. So I do want to spend because she’s worth it, but I don’t want to piss her off.

I was just going with what I felt comfortable with. I felt comfortable at the store, I felt comfortable with this jeweler. I felt like she was leading me in the right direction, not like I was being taken advantage of. So if it ended up costing an extra few thousand dollars, it’s just money. We all live once.

As a guy, you can be as macho as you want, but it’s freaky to go shopping for a ring. It really is. It’s symbolizing the end of your single life and the beginning of your life with this person. You don’t want to f–k it up. It’s scary.

You pay for half of it when you fully design the ring and put in the order, then you pay for the other half when it’s ready and you come pick it up. I guess this would have showed up in two different bank statements. I only show her the statements when we’re going through bills for the month and I tell her what she owes, because I get the bills for rent and utilities and everything like that, and she just Venmos me. But how would you hide it? I don’t know.

caption
Dave Smith and his now-fiancée, Nasra.
source
Courtesy of Dave Smith

If I didn’t trust Amanda, I would have just gone somewhere else. There are a million bajillion jewelry stores. Even though it’s not totally comfortable taking out your wallet and paying for these things, you can be more comfortable if you feel like you did everything you can to make sure it’s the ring you wanted.

I wanted to make sure I felt comfortable, because if I felt like I was off the rails here, even though it’s for her, I would have felt weird about giving it to her. I would have felt weird about doing the whole engagement. You want to start it off on the right foot. Being engaged – as my brother, my parents, and everyone says – is a party, but for you. You want everything to be as right as possible.

The jeweler told me to come back after the proposal and we’d have champagne, and then do the insurance stuff, which covers a lifetime in case any of the diamonds fall off or anything. I don’t wear anything that costs thousands of dollars, so it’s very scary prospect.

They called me in early December to pick it up. I ran home and was trying to find a hiding place. The surprise is really hard, because you know she could go anywhere in the apartment. I hid it in the very back of my sock drawer inside of a hat. When she wasn’t there, I practiced putting the ring box in and out of my jacket.

I put a lot of thought into the actual surprise of it. She was totally surprised, and it was totally worth it, just watching her gears work as I stopped her in the street right in front of the place where we met. Just watching that reaction was totally worth the surprise, and the angst and everything that I had been through by myself, keeping the secret from her, doing all this planning to get the ring, to find the right one, to buy it, to hide it from her, to plan the restaurant visit and then walk past the place where we met.

She’s ecstatic about it. She loves the ring.

Have you purchased an engagement ring? We want to hear your story. Email yourmoney@businessinsider.com. Anonymity can be considered.